Newly minted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke to reporters on Friday while visiting South Korea, said that the military option was “on the table” if the U.S. felt North Korea’s missile program, specifically their nuclear intentions, required it.
Also on Friday, President Trump jumped on his Twitter account to chastise North Korea saying, “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years.” He then went on reprimand China stating, “China has done little to help!”
I reached out to Kevin Baron, the Executive Editor for Defense One and NBC News National Security Analyst, and I asked him his thoughts on the latest statements by Tillerson regarding the increasing tensions within the region.
Kevin said, “”Look, don’t let Tillerson’s tough talk fool you. The U.S. has always maintained a policy of ‘all options’ being on the table, and nothing about that changed with his chest thumping. President Obama already had moved additional troops, fighters, THAAD (ballistic missile defense), ships, even Marines into the Pacific. The only thing that has changed is Trump’s team likes to sound tougher than previous administrations. But sounding tough doesn’t mean much when your hands are tied by realities.”
The realities such as sanctions that have not been effective within North Korea, and Trump is right, China has done next to nothing to help in these efforts to bring Pyongyang to heel. The military option is even less attractive as Kevin goes on to mention, “[p]reemptive strikes on the North’s missile program would cause an immediate war, killing thousands of Koreans on both sides, and plenty of American troops.”
We find ourselves in a tight spot as Kevin explains, “Until the North actually shows it’s willing to test PACOM’s (Pacific Command) resolve by getting closer to a nuclear-tipped ICBM, there’s little new Trump’s team can do.” If they do indeed test this resolve, we will find ourselves at war again in the Korean peninsula, which will be costly if the past is any indication. Though we have considerably more effective weapon systems to bring to bear, it will require an invasion force not seen since World War II and there is no doubt that every inch of ground will be hotly and fanatically contested by North Korean troops. However, Kevin brings up a good point in his final remarks.
“The one group of people we don’t seem to be talking about are actual North Koreans. It’s like in Hunt for Red October — how to make the crew want to get off the boat? Figure that out, and maybe one day history will change there without firing a shot.”
If we can somehow break this “Bamboo Curtain” that has surrounded the north since the 1950’s, allowing Pyongyang the ability to so effectively brainwash their population on such a massive scale, then the answer to removing the regime will perhaps come from within.
That’s an interesting thought to ponder and one which Tillerson should meditate on during his flight to Beijing, where he will be discussing the increasingly complex situation in the region, including China’s involvement, or lack thereof, on the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang is the king of hawkish rhetoric and for Secretary Tillerson and President Trump to respond in kind will lead to fruitless results at best. At worst, such provocations could lead to all out war. Scrapping current U.S. policies for more aggressive actions to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program might have results we are not prepared to bear. It is difficult to predict madmen like Kim Jong-un. If we are to save a generation of Americans and Koreans a bloodbath with consequences that will ripple for decades to come, we must determine how to get them off the boat.
Featured image courtesy of EPA